What is Art History?

Art history is a discipline that studies the historical dimension of art, along with the timeline of styles and movements of art, artists, and their preserved works. Art historians also concern themselves with the themes and meaning behind art pieces, the techniques and materials used in making them, and the sociocultural context these artists and often their patrons lived. These historians primarily investigate the age of a work of art, which is often concurrent with its particular style and the subject of the piece, which can tell them much about the culture that produced it. They also seek out information on the creator of any given work of art, including their cultural and socioeconomic cache, along with data on the patron that had it commissioned, if possible.

The types of art studied by the discipline of art history include:

  • Pictorial or two-dimensional art like drawings, photos, and paintings.
  • Sculpture, or traditional three-dimensional art, from ancient to contemporary times.
  • The craft arts or artistic objects with utilitarian purposes like jewelry and ceramics.
  • Architecture has artistic structural elements that often coincide with movements in the history of art.

In recent years, computer-generated art and even some instances of the performing arts are also gradually becoming more accepted for analysis and curation by art historians.

Art history has its roots in the aesthetic analysis of the Greco-Roman era, making it one of the oldest academic disciplines known as the humanities. These fields of study are concerned with all the creations of the human mind and heart. While they often include sociocultural context in their work, they lack a background in scientific methodology and the use of social theory necessary to classify the discipline as a social science. This characteristic is the primary difference between the history of art and a discipline like archaeology, which studies cultures based on their material remains and technology.

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Art History Topics

18th Century Art Movements

Examine 18th-century art, artists, and paintings. Study the history of art in the 18th century and 18th-century art movements like Neoclassicism and Romanticism.

19th Century Art Movements

Learn about 19th-century art movements. Explore definitions and examples of romanticism, impressionism, realism, and other significant art movements of the period.

20th Century Art Movements and Modern Art Movements

Learn about 20th century art movements. Review a timeline of the major art movements of the 20th century with descriptions, major artists, and images.

Ancient Art

Learn about the history of ancient art and review an ancient art history timeline. Discover the purpose of ancient arts and examples of ancient paintings.

Asian Art

Learn about Asian art and its history. Review ancient Asian art and traditional Asian art, examine modern Asian art movements, and discover examples of famous works.

Contemporary Art and Contemporary Art Movements

Learn all about contemporary art. Understand what contemporary art is, study the history of contemporary art, and view various contemporary art styles.

European Art Movements

Study European art history. Explore the history of art in Europe with a timeline and review famous artists from Europe, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso.

Islamic Art

Learn about Islamic art and architecture. Find out Muslim art history and characteristics. Discover Islamic glass, rugs, book painting, and famous Islamic mosaics.

Native American Art (North America)

Read about Native American artwork. Learn about types of traditional Native American art, like quillwork and pottery, and Native American drawings, like petroglyphs.

Prehistoric Art

Learn about the different mediums and significance of prehistoric art. Study a timeline of prehistoric art and discover some of its most famous examples.

Art History Resources

Art history is one of the humanities that encompasses several subject areas, from the study of the arts and culture, to social and world history. It is only fitting, then, that Study.com offers a plethora of courses and lesson plans that discuss the evolution of art and the creators who produced great works. Courses range from credit-awarding college classes on the discipline to introductory classes accessible for all ages. There are projects and lesson plans ready for use by teachers looking to incorporate the history of art into their existing courses.

History of Art Courses and Lessons

Art history entails an understanding of world history, especially that of the global west, and aesthetic and cultural analysis, in addition to a general knowledge of famous artists and a timeline of their works. That means thousands of courses related to art history topics and art history videos are available through Study.com. From traditional art history classes to those that broaden the field to include structural art and music, there is plenty of content to satisfy any art student.

Art History Test Prep for Teachers and Students

Study.com's art test prep courses can help students prepare for exams that can lead to college credit or provide teaching credentials. High school students seeking college credit in art history can study using the AP Art History Prep, while non-traditional students can benefit from the DSST Art of the Western World course. Prospective teachers can prepare for the Praxis exam with the Praxis Art Prep Course. All courses are designed to help students review art history themes and feel confident when they take these important exams.


For teachers and parents

Art History Lesson Plans for Teachers

Art history is an extensive discipline dealing with social history and culture as much as the aesthetic analysis of art. These aspects of the field make it suitable for inclusion in any existing curriculum on world history, the arts, or social studies. These lesson plans make it easy for teachers to bring the art history timeline and evolution of art into the classroom. The projects included will introduce them to a world of artists and the movements they created.

Lesson plans
  • Art History Lesson Plans & Projects

    Projects, lessons, and activities are here for any social studies or history class. These lesson plans focus on art history, helping students learn about famous artists, their works, and significant artistic movements.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the first known art in history?

    The first known art in history comes from the Paleolithic (Old Stone) Age, which began circa 40,000 BC. These works included large cave paintings depicting people and animals, decorated carved tools, and sculptures known as Venus figurines.

  • Who created the history of art?

    The first art historian in history was Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century, though the discipline traces its roots back to Greco-Roman era art critics. Vasari was a painter and architect who trained under Michelangelo and is often called the 'father of art history.'

  • What does one study in art history?

    In art history, one studies the great works of art, the artists who produced them, and the major artistic movements that have taken place. The study of art history is the study of human creativity.